Dietrich (December 22, 1916-May 21, 2003) was an impressionist whose prolific and diverse works encompassed oil paintings, serigraphs, etchings, illustrations, drawings, and scenic and textile designs. His range of subjects included floral fantasies, landscapes, cityscapes, horses, people, sailboats and sporting scenes depicted through a harmonious interplay of color, shadow and light that informed over 2,000 works.
Born Dietrich Hermann Grunewald in Oskarstöm, Sweden, to a German textile engineer and his wife, Dietrich became interested in art at the age of 14 and later studied in Stockholm at Welamson’s Art School between 1933 and 1935. Upon graduation he worked at an advertising agency, where he produced concept designs and illustrations. In 1938 at the urging of his father, he immigrated to the United States where he briefly attended the American Academy of Art in Chicago. However, dissatisfied with the commercial focus of the curriculum, he decided to move west to San Francisco. Once there, he enrolled in a local art school, where he studied anatomical drawing and created etchings depicting scenes of daily life in the city. In 1939, he was commissioned to create scenic designs for the Royal Danish Opera production of “Himmelhøj” as part of the Golden Gate International Exposition. It was also during this year that he had his first exhibition of etchings at the Courvoisier Gallery in San Francisco.
In 1942, Dietrich relocated to Los Angeles and worked at 20th Century Fox making blueprints of scenic designs. Following his work for Fox, he was hired by Paramount Pictures to produce storyboards and continuity sketches for “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” As America became immersed in World War II, Dietrich found himself relocated to shipyards in Portland, Oregon, and Richmond, California, where he produced projection drawings of naval vessels for the U.S. Department of Defense. He returned to Los Angeles in 1944, and contributed storyboard and continuity sketches for Goldwyn Studios’ “Up in Arms” and “The Princess and the Pirate.” After working at Goldwyn, Dietrich was engaged by Walt Disney Studios to create matte drawings for the live action sequences of the experimental film “Song of the South.”
The postwar years resulted in a flurry of activity for Dietrich, who expanded his artistic capabilities into the realm of textile design. At the suggestion of costume designer, Edith Head, he gained an introduction to notable textile designer and weaver, Dorothy Liebes, which in turn led to a series of important commissions from Liebes, T.H. Robsjohn Gibbings, Wilton T. Owen, Morley-Fletcher and the Celanese Corporation. His subsequent designs for wallpaper, drapery and upholstery patterns included Asian-inspired motives of cherry, pine and ming trees, Southwestern pueblos, Peruvian-inspired florals and Midwestern farm scenes. A select group of these designs received national attention and were exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago and other major U.S. cities. Responding to the increased demand for his work, he opened Dietrich Studios in Los Angeles in 1948. Commissions over the next seven years included textile designs for various U.S. Embassies, President Truman’s “Little White House” in Key West; the Governor’s Palace in Manila, Philippines, the S.S. United States, the Ambassador Hotel and Prudential Building in Los Angeles, the Beverly Hills Hotel, the Tropicana and Flamingo hotels in Las Vegas, and the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco.
The year 1956 signaled a new direction for Dietrich as he was engaged by the Van Amstel Company of Los Angeles to collaborate on a series of serigraphs that were to be marketed and distributed through various department stores nationwide. Dietrich’s association with Van Amstel proved to be an enormously successful enterprise over the ensuing twenty years that rewarded him with both financial stability and the freedom to pursue his lifelong aspirations as a fine artist. In 1959, he moved to Pacific Palisades, where he painted and exhibited his art through private showings and public exhibitions until 1993.
Dietrich’s fine art career crystallized during the 1960s, enabling him to flourish independently for the rest of his life. In 1961, he was commissioned to paint a large-scale mural for the new Union Federal Bank headquarters in downtown Los Angeles. Two years later, he partnered with real estate developer, William Tishman, to launch a major exhibition of his impressionist oils on canvas and oils on paper at Tishman’s private residence in Beverly Hills. Over 1,000 people attended the six-day, star-studded event, which effectively launched his fine art career. Over the next thirty years, his paintings were featured in gallery and private residence exhibitions throughout California and other American cities, as well as Sydney, Toronto, El Salvador, Hong Kong and Stockholm. In 1993, he retired to LaQuinta, California, where he intermittently worked on several commissions until the mid 1990s when he was beset by health problems.
In addition to his work as a fine artist and designer, Dietrich was both a family man and an avid sportsman who enjoyed playing tennis, skiing and body-surfing. He was married four times and boasts 5 children, 2 stepchildren and 7 grandchildren. In 1997, he became a U.S. citizen and at the time of his death in 2003 had just celebrated his 36th-year wedding anniversary with his fourth wife, Patty.
Between 1996 and 1997, Dietrich wrote his memoirs as a means of chronicling his extraordinary life for his family. These memoirs, along with books and newspaper accounts, served as the basis for this biography written by his son, Gregory Dietrich.
Written by Gregory Dietrich